Achieving Public Health Co-benefits Through Air and Climate Policy: Lessons from California and China

December 14, 2023

Our new California-China Climate Institute report analyzes policies and programs, implementation mechanisms, and lessons learned from California and China in achieving public health co-benefits through air and climate policies. Lessons and experiences from both jurisdictions - including case studies from Los Angeles, Beijing and Shenzhen - provide key insights for other regions on best practices that could be adopted, as well as existing gaps and challenges. 

Air pollution and climate change are linked issues with overlapping solutions and significant public health co-benefits. The connection between the pair necessitates a cohesive policy approach to maximize health co-benefits and avoid unintended trade-offs.

Both California and China have ambitious air quality and climate targets and have been implementing various related policies. California has integrated public health into its air and climate policies, primarily by incorporating public health indicators in policies, establishing public health monitoring networks, and measuring implementation action. It has also paid more attention to vulnerable populations in recent years to address environmental justice issues. Meanwhile, China is now a pioneer in mitigating air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously. It has established a large-scale air quality monitoring program, as well as a comprehensive policy framework for climate change mitigation. Even though public health has not yet been a primary motivation for China’s greenhouse gas policies, public health has been emphasized in its climate adaptation policies, and efforts to assess the health impacts of climate change have been seen in several Chinese provinces.

Both jurisdictions provide good examples. Los Angeles successfully combines scientific research with policymaking and integrates public health indicators in its air and climate policies. Similarly, Beijing and Shenzhen are actively devising public health indicators and further controlling air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by implementing “coordinated control” policies and carbon markets. 

Important lessons can be gleaned from considering the public health co-benefits of air pollution and climate actions concurrently. California has demonstrated that public health co-benefits can serve as measurable, quantitative goals within climate and air quality policies. It has also made significant progress in incorporating environmental justice considerations into its work. China, meanwhile, has excelled at developing highly sophisticated air quality monitoring tools and a comprehensive climate policy framework and should consider further integrating public health indicators in its policies. Case studies from jurisdictions like Los Angeles, Beijing, and Shenzhen shed insights into real-world examples of how cities are considering air quality and climate change in tandem. 

Culled from interactive expert workshops convened throughout the project, this report also identifies several key opportunities for moving forward: (1) Convene exchanges and training between jurisdictions in California and China to share lessons learned; (2) Utilize, replicate, and expand upon the use of technological monitoring and mapping tools; (3) Further implement “coordinated control” and regional management approaches; (4) Conduct more localized public health research; (5) Enhance the role of multi-stakeholder engagement in driving public health actions; and (6) Prioritize public health in air and climate policymaking agendas.

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